Interviews

How Brandon Larracuente Balances Netflix and Workouts

With two hit shows and the Netflix feature 'Bright' to his name, 23-year-old Brandon Larracuente juggles fame, fitness, and staying true to himself.

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Brandon Larracuente
Dustin Snipes / M+F Magazine

Earlier this year, Brandon Larracuente became a meme on the internet. More specifically, his character from Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, Jeff Atkins, became a meme when fans of the show flooded social media with creative images and GIFs, under the hashtag #JeffAtkinsDeservedBetter, to mourn the character’s untimely death.

In a show that centered on the suicide of a fellow high school student, Hannah Baker, Larracuente played a paragon of good—the jock with a heart of gold. The character wasn’t even supposed to exist. He didn’t appear in the book that the show is based on, but producers created the role for Larracuente anyway, inviting him to make it his own.

It was a powerful vote of confidence for the young actor, and it allowed him to showcase his own winning personality, good looks, and ripped physique, which he hones with six days of intense workouts each week. This genuine likability, and that laser focus that keeps him seeing the inside of gyms more than parties, has helped the 23-year-old Larracuente amass an impressive amount of work at this stage of his career. And as he keeps progressing, so do his roles.

His latest project: Bright, which sports a $90 million budget and an all-star cast. It’s a departure from TV but his third project with Netflix. His first appearance on the popular streaming-video service was in the series Bloodline, a dramatic thriller centered on a Florida Keys family. (Kyle Chandler played Larracuente’s dad.) “I really feel like an adopted son of the Netflix family,” he says. 

Bright, a genre-bending mashup of high fantasy and street-crime drama, takes place in an alternate reality in which humans coexist alongside orcs, elves, and fairies. It teams Larracuente with Will Smith, as well as other big names like Noomi Rapace and Joel Edgerton.

“Will Smith is somebody I’ve looked up to since I was a young kid,” Larracuente says. During downtime on set, he picked Smith’s brain, absorbing as much as he could from the veteran star. “It was a really good experience, and I took a lot from it,” he says. “I’ve taken something away from everybody I’ve worked with. I think it’s shaping me as I continue to grow as an actor and as a person.”

Beyond just holding his own onscreen next to the film’s formidable cast, Larracuente had another challenge to overcome: the makeup chair. He plays an orc, which meant long days—sometimes up to six hours—in the chair being fitted with prosthetics, including a muscular body cast that added mass to the actor’s already-chiseled frame.

He also had to learn a language: Orcish. There’s no Rosetta Stone for that, so Larracuente worked with an on-set coach to perfect the dialect. Between long days shooting and his increasingly busy schedule, Larracuente has to prioritize fitness and nutrition. A natural athlete, he played baseball and football through high school, but he wasn’t always into working out.

“I used to hate working out so much,” Larracuente says. “I used to just sit in my room and play video games or go out with friends.” His dad, however, had different ideas. A retired New York City police detective, he encouraged his son to stay fit. The more Larracuente saw results, the more he wanted to keep working. Now he trains six days per week, and with his schedule, that often means lifting weights in a hotel gym.

P90X was Larracuente’s foray into training, and he counts Pumping Iron, the Arnold Schwarzenegger documentary, among his favorite films. Schwarzenegger's tenants of bodybuilding continue to provide a foundation for Larracuente's workouts, but he sometimes incorporates more cardio exercises into his regimen and often jumps rope between sets to keep his heart rate up.

Traveling a lot makes eating healthy difficult, but Larracuente does what he can when on the road. “At restaurants, you don’t know what ingredients they’re putting into the food, but when I’m home I try to limit my consumption of salt and sugar,” he says. It takes self-restraint, especially when he’s out with friends and burgers and pizza are on the table.

“Don’t get me wrong, pizza and burgers sound great, but I have to stay disciplined. That’s something my dad taught me. Discipline from an early age.” Pizza is his cheat meal of choice. But nothing compares with his love of octopus. When visiting family in Puerto Rico, that’s his favorite dish—he eats it out of 10 days on a recent trip.

“Depending on who cooks it, it can be a little gummy, but if it’s flavored right, it’s an incredible experience,” he says. “I’m telling you, I think I saw God when I was eating octopus. It’s a holy experience.” Work, travel, fitness, and his unabashed love for eight-tentacle sea creatures notwithstanding, Larracuente’s other interest is social media, where he can interact with his fans. With nearly 2 million followers on Instagram as of this writing, he’s got a big platform—and he puts it to good use. 

“We’re on this pedestal for a reason,” he says, referring to himself and his castmates from 13 Reasons Why. “It’s to share knowledge and to help others who are going through things,” whether that’s providing encouragement to fans dealing with life and relationship struggles or even just providing motivation to get into the gym.

All that visibility can be a lot for anyone, especially a young up-and-comer with a full schedule, but when asked about his goal as a young public figure, the levelheaded Larracuente has a simple answer: “Honestly, man, to spread kindness.”

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